“Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal.”
– Proverbs 12:18, GNT –
This verse made me stop in my tracks this past week.
I have probably literally heard it my whole life. I should know this, right? 🙂
Recently, a friend shared with me the deep pain that several people’s random comments and inappropriate words caused her. It was just this past week, as I considered blogging on the power of words, that I realized the connection to this verse.
The Bible has plenty to say about how we speak. Be kind to one another. Build up. Don’t curse one another. Speak the truth in love.
We know this.
But this particular verse especially stood out to me because people I cared about were being knocked flat because of words that people didn’t even intend to be hurtful. I can’t judge hearts, but I know these fellow Christians most likely did not intend their speech to be so deadly. But it was.
What does the proverb say again?
“Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword….”
The verse doesn’t say “evil words.” It doesn’t say “malicious” or even “premeditated words.”
The reality of life is that you and I could walk into the world today and just blurt out something…and it could absolutely destroy someone.
Don’t get me wrong–people have choices about how they respond to wrong words. But God doesn’t expect us to blame our carelessness on the wounded. He places the responsibility of love directly the speaker.
How many times a day do I carelessly throw out sentences? Many times in the last few weeks, I’ve become angry at the way other people fling thoughtless words at those I love. “That is SO insensitive,” I’ve internally ranted. “How can they not see how wrong that is?”
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love to talk will have to eat their own words.” – Proverbs 18:21, GW
Recently, someone I dearly love and respect excused his quick, thoughtless words as “just his personality.” He stopped and thought something like, “I wonder if I should say that?” And then he verbally announced his mental process and proceeded to speak his mind anyway. He knew better. But, because he identified as a blunt person, he thought that gave him liberty to say what he was thinking in that situation. I wonder, if he knew what his words might have cost, if he would think his liberty was worth that much.
I’m not advocating over-sensitivity or timidity when it comes to conversing with others. But we should certainly strive toward more compassion and less haste, more tactfulness and less impulsiveness. More Christ-likeness and less me-likeness. This verse about thoughtless words compels me to examine my communication and pray for grace to enrich lives rather than reduce them to dust.
Ladies, we especially have power to build or destroy with our words. Proverbs contains several laments of men who would have preferred to camp out on the edge of their roof than be in the same house as a cantankerous girl. Our gender, famous for using countless thousands of words each day, would do especially well to remember the harm that unthinking words can instigate.
Florence Littauer, a dear Christian woman, wrote a book called Silver Boxes. In it, she recounts the story of a little girl who compared giving encouraging words to giving someone a silver-wrapped gift.
What a piercing thought.
Our words can be silver-cased swords, ready to cut to the quick…
Or they can be silver-wrapped boxes, filled with delight.
Practically, what kind of words come as silver-crusted daggers? While I’m sure situations vary greatly, here are a few examples of insensitive ones: physical appearance, mental or physical ability, psychological labels (even as a joke), misunderstood teasing, reminding people of past mistakes or sins, untempered criticism, or any words that belittle or discourage.
Whew. Not a fun list.
If those are the kinds of words to shun, what can we put on instead? I know, in my family, much of the above list is absolutely taboo. We’re not particularly noble –- my brother and I were just never allowed to use them!
For me, then, my biggest challenge is the handoff between silver swords and silver boxes. Honestly, when I examine myself, I see more sins of omission in the area of words.
While I definitely say wrong things, mostly I don’t say enough right things.
“Pleasing words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and invigorating to the bones,” says Proverbs 16:24, NABRE.
What can you say? How about one of these: I’m proud of you. I really respect/appreciate you. Wow, look at what God has done in your life! Hey, how can I pray for you today? I love you. I am really glad you are in my life. What a good Father we have! I know He has this situation under control, even if we don’t understand.
I told you at the beginning of this post that a friend of mine has been suffering from thoughtless words. What did these words do? They made a Christian girl have to work twice as hard to fight lies, because other people were unwittingly joining the chorus of temptations she already faced. They struck her with pain, because people she loved were using their words like knives. Unknown to those around her, they were actually siding with the devil, helping him tear down a soul. What a horrible thought!
And there I was on the other end of the spectrum. I was the one hearing the effects of these hurtful words and praying for words to pick up the pieces.
I get frustrated, because sometimes it seems to take 10 encouraging words to undo 1 hurtful word. But with this friend and with others, I now more clearly see the battlefield of communication. From time to time, God puts me on the front lines and gives me the gift of speaking truth into a hurting heart. He asks me to give out silver boxes.
If you think words can kill, you’re right.
But wait until God uses your words to bring life to dull eyes. This is real living, my friends. And I don’t dive into this abundant life nearly enough.
It is a battle. If you engage with encouragement, you are going to see some amazing things happen.
God gave us the gift of words. With the forgiveness and love of Jesus as our motivation and the grace of our Lord as our power, let’s make a choice to craft our silver into gift boxes of encouragement, not slicing swords.
Words are pretty powerful stuff. Whose life can you build up today?
“So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.”
– 1 Thessalonions 5:11, CEB –